Foremost among the supporters of the Red Cross Society in Berry, New South Wales, was Ida Lewers, a sister of the local doctor, Thomas Lewers.
Along with other volunteers, Ida worked at the Little Red Cross Shop selling handcrafted items and serving lunches and afternoon teas to raise funds for the care of serving and returned soldiers. When the South Coast Red Cross Soldiers Home for Convalescent Soldiers opened at Bomaderry in 1918, Ida was one of two Berry representatives on the Red Cross Society’s committee. The shop became an outlet for the ‘beautiful and artistic’ items produced by men during their recuperation.
The returned servicemen were lavish in their praise of Ida, saying their welfare had been ‘her constant care and anxiety’ throughout the war years. At the 1919 Welcome Home and Peace Celebrations, she was presented with a gold brooch set with diamonds inscribed ‘Presented to Miss Ida Lewers by the Diggers of Berry’.
By 1923, Berry was the only branch of the Red Cross still active on the south coast, and the success of its little shop was widely reported in regional newspapers as raising £176 from the sale of its handicrafts. At some stage Ida purchased a red suede hat from the shop, a gift for her niece Oonah Matthews who lived in England.
Ida left Berry in March 1926 after the death of her brother, Dr Lewers, and the local diggers presented her with an address illustrated with scenes of trench life and ribbons bearing battle names. Another parting gift was a gold watch presented by members of the public. Later that year she sailed to England to see her sister, Lucy Matthews, and her family in Lancashire. Ida returned in August 1931 and died at Linton, Victoria, on 17 March 1947 aged 82 years.
Her niece Oonah Matthews did not marry and retired to Hillsborough, Co Down, Ireland, her father’s birthplace. In the late 1980s, a chance meeting in Ireland between Oonah and members of the Berry Historical Society resulted in several Lewers’ family items being returned to Berry. Among them was the red suede hat that Oonah’s aunt Ida had purchased at the Little Red Cross Shop some sixty-five years before.
Berry Historical Society Collection.
‘Peace celebration at Berry’,Shoalhaven News and South Coast Districts Advertiser, 15 November 1919.
‘Local and general’, Shoalhaven Telegraph, 31 March 1926.